Volume 4, Number 11 - Spring 1973

Reminiscences of a Boy at Billings, Christian County, Missouri
by Cletus R. Ackerman

I was born at Billings, Mo. Aug. 5, 1905, the son of Frank F. and Lydia (DeWitt) Ackerman. Old doctor Fred Brown delivered me as well as my two brothers, Charles and Max L. and little sister, Marguerite A. Doctor Brown was also present at my mother’s birth as well as my uncles, aunts and cousins. He was succeeded by his son, Fred Jr. and Fred Junior’s son now practices medicine at Aurora and Billings.

Grandpa Charlie DeWitt and his brother, George W. both lived in Billings. Grandpa Charlie had 10 children and uncle George 9, 50 at one time there were a lot of cousins, aunts, and uncles


living there. Uncle George and Grandpa both were born at Union City, Missouri, just South of Clever.

My first recolllctions as a child were chasing my brothers on the short sidewalk in front of the house, and helping wash out my brother’s diapers. Across the road stood the canning factory, next to which was my father’s horse barn where he maintained a stable of Morgan stallions. Between the barn and railroad tracks was the stock yards from which many car loads of cattle were shipped to Kansas City and St. Louis. Across the tracks from the stockyards was Gus Verforth’s blacksmith shop.

The Verforths were neighbors and I spent many happy hours at their place playing with their youngest boys, Theodore and Gene. One time wasn’t so pleasant, when a pony belonging to the Velforth boys, stepped on my foot. Another neighbor was the Schmidts, with whom we were always "Feudin". One of my early play mates was Flora Humble who lived neaaby and from that I was teased unmercifully by my kin. They gave me the name of "Flory the didy washer" and one day my Aunt, Alme DeWitt, my two brothers, my cousins Lillian and Ethel Rector had harrassed me for hours. I finally escaped by hiding in the cellar. Peeping out the outside door I saw them in the lawn swing and I picked up a rock and let fly catching my aunt Alma over the eye and cutting a deep gash, boy! did I catch it.

My Uncle Joe DeWitt was born about four months after I was and we grew up together like brothers. If uncle Joe wasn’t home he could always be found at our place and likewise for me. I spent a lot of time at grandpa Charlie DeWitt’s home. Grandpa built a new two-story home about 1910 and it was one of the first homes in town with inside plumbing. At the well on the South side of the house was a pump with a lever to pump water into the tank inside of the house. As the pressure built up it would become harder and harder to pump. I have helped Uncle Joe pump it up many times.

On the road South of town past the school were two ponds—one on each side of the road. These ponds were called the "double ponds", and they had some bullhead catfish in them. We would catch them and put them in the stock watering tank and when enough had accumulated grandma Becky would have a fish fry. Great Grandma Elizabeth (Baal) McQuire lived most of the time with Grandma Becky and quite often acted as a baby sitter for all her grandchildren and great grandchildren. Great Grandma McGuire was a very devout Christian and wherever she was her bible was close at hand.

Her son, great uncle Elley McGuire, was a frequent visitor and I used to be held enthralled by his stories of the Civil War. (Great Grandpa Josiah McGuire died at Gallatin, Tenn., during the war). Great Grandma McGuire was also in great demand during canning season. I remember her best sitting in our front yard under the large maple tree peeling fruit, steming gooseberries, and other like chores.

Uncle Joe DeWitt and I started school at the same time. The old school was located about 2 blocks from the present stop sign on highway 60. My uncle, Bill DeWitt, took uncle Joe and me to school and put us in with the first graders. The teachers at that time were: Miss Richer, 1st grade and Minnie Brown 2nd grade. At recess time on the first day uncle Joe and I thinking that was all, left and went to grandpa Charlie’s and were playing on a threshing machine that was parked in the corner of the pasture. We hadn’t been there long when here came Uncle Bill and took us back to school. After 2 or 3 years a new school was built at the present location of the High School. I faintly remember taking part in a couple of Christmas plays. In one I was the north wind, because I could whistle like the North wind.

The railroad depot was the center of activity at train time. We had two trains a day, one Northbound and one South. When they arrived at the depot about half the town was there to see who was leaving or arriving.

Otis Bush married my mother’s sister, Clara DeWitt, and he ran a barber shop in town. At one time my uncles, Joe and Bob DeWitt, worked for him. Also my cousin Burton DeWitt, uncle Bob’s son, and for a short time by brother, Charles, worked for uncle Otis. Cousin Burton DeWitt was the son of Uncle Bob and Carrie (Brown) DeWitt. Aunt Carrie was the daughter of Burton Brown founder of Brown Springs, Mo.

It was mom’s custom to send me with my two brothers to uncle Otis’s shop for haircuts. One time my brother Max, told uncle Otis that mom said that he could have a peel job and when uncle asked by brother, Charles, and me we said it was all right. When we returned home mom really hit the ceiling and uncle really caught it from her.

When telephones came in, Uncle Bill got a job as night operator and I spent a night or two with him. I was fascinated watching him plug in the cables and quite often listen in on the talk and get the latest gossip.

Grandma and all the kin folds belonged to the Christian Church and that church as well as the rest held their baptising at Terril Spring about 2 1/2 mills South of Billings. At that time Terrill spring flowed at a much greater volume and there were several places deep enough for baptising.


Afterwards there was a picnic.

Everyone in town had a garden and in the spring, plowing had to be done. This was done mostly by a Mr. Jones. He had an old grey mule that had something wrong with his mouth as his tongue came out the side of his mouth. The mule’s name was Lew and you could hear Jones all over town, "Gee Lew" or "Haw Lew". Jones used to scare us by projecting his upper plate at us.

At Christmas time we usually received an orange, some candy and a toy or two. I remember my cousin getting her finger all buggered up by sticking it into the end of a pop gun.

Our playgrounds when not at school was the front yard, the road, the canning factory, stock yards, the horse barn, and once in a while we would visit Gus Verforth’s blacksmith shop. At the canning factory we would beat on the spoiled cans and drive nails into the can to watch the tomato juice squirt out.

Dad used to let me lead the horses to the watering trough once in a while and I would lead them at the extreme end of a ten-foot halter rope afraid to get too close. He had one very mean stallion and he was the only one that could handle him. The horse’s name was Easter and he almost got dad down one day and dad had to knock him down with his loaded quirt. I used to like to watch them load cattle. Grandpa Charlie was crippled and had to use a cane, he would stand at the loading chute proding the cattle on with his cane.

At supper time mom had trouble getting us to come in and often threatened that the gypsies or the bald-knobbers would get us if we wouldn’t come in.

In the summertime we would have a band concert on Saturday evenings. The town had a lot of people of German descent and the band was made up of mostly German musicians. The band would form a circle at the intersection of what is now Hwy 60 and main street with the conductor in the center. I still remember the um-pa-pa, um-pa-pa. Also in the summer a street fair was held with horse shows, foot races, and other things too numerous to mention. Dad with his saddle horse, Naylor, used to take the blue ribbon every year in the gaited classes, and he had the house full of ribbons.

A man named Bill Honeybaum owned a foundry on the south side of town and he was the first man in Billings to own an automobile. One day we were playing in the road and I looked up and saw a buggy crossing the railroad tracks near Gus Verforth’s blacksmith shop without a horse in front of it. I yelled to my brothers and took off for the house as if the devil was after me.

One fourth of July our dad bought us some firecrackers. At about that time he also acquired a bird dog pup and we had a lot of fun teasing the pup with the firecrackers until he ran under the house to escape our harassment. Our dad couldn’t coax him out so he fed him there for a few days and when he did make up his mind to come out dad had to enlarge the hole so he could make it. Needless to say the dog was ruined for hunting as he turned up gun-shy.

When I was about 7 or 8, dad and some of his in-laws dicided to go to the White River for a turkey hunt and left in a covered wagon. About a week later I was going hime from school with my cousin, Josephine Purdy, (daughter of Charley and Molly Purdy). I heard one of my dad’s yells. Sure enough, they soon showed up in the wagon with a turkey and an oppossum hanging from the front bow. They hauled me aboard and I finished the ride home with them. They were well fortified with snake-bite medicine and were feeling no pain. The next day uncle Bill DeWitt skinned the possum and later on sold it to the fur buyer for a grand total of 15 cents.

In the summer months we spent some time at aunt Louise Henfricks farm, north of Billings, the Ackerman family farm near Marionville or at Aunt Anna Williams farm north of Aurora. I well remember one day at aunt Anna’s farm, Uncle Loren was cutting wheat and had three head hitched to the binder. He put me on the off horse and gave me a switch to keep them going. The horses became all sweaty and when I tried to get down and walk I was paralised and fell on my face, my legs all galded on the inside. It took me a half hour to get on my feet.

About a half mile north of town on grandpa Charlie’s farm there was a small pond and one day uncle Joe, my two brothers and myself were skinny dipping in our birthday suits. We were having a lot of fun when I happened to look up and there on the road was uncle Bill in the surry with grandma Becky, and grandma McGuire. Uncle Bill helloed at us, grabbed the buggy whip from it’s socket, and started over the fence. We took off in the opposite direction, sans clothes and after chasing us a while uncle Bill let us come and get our clothes.

When I look back at the "Good old days" I realise that the reason they were called such, life was not so complicated then, no TV, radio, and other distractions to get in the way of having fun.


This volume: Next Article | Table of Contents | Other Issues

Other Volumes | Keyword Search | White River Valley Quarterly Home | Local History Home

Copyright © White River Valley Historical Quarterly

 Springfield-Greene County Library